When it comes to casting television and film roles, Rachel Whitley Sutton is an industry fave.
While notable names like Daniel Dae Kim and Alex O’Loughlin are the face of hit TV show Hawaii Five-0, behind the scenes are dozens of extras who play an intricate role in each episode. Coordinating all those people takes time, passion and talent. Enter casting director Rachel Whitley Sutton.
The New Yorker made the move from the East Coast to the balmy West Coast to attend University of California at Santa Cruz—majoring in biology. “I was either going to be pre-med or become a teacher,” she explains. At the time, she had no idea casting jobs and the like existed.
After college, she continued her search for good surf and sunny weather, and relocated to O`ahu in 1999, right on the cusp of big films including Blue Crush (2002) and The Big Bounce (2004). Sutton settled into island life and began teaching at Waialua High and Intermediate School, but soon felt her life calling pull her in a different direction.
“We had a lot of production work going on around here at the time,” she says of the North Shore locale. Her interest in the film industry piqued, and Sutton sent her resume to casting director Anna Fishburn and was able to procure an internship at her office for a television pilot.
Within a few days, Sutton realized she found her calling.
“With that first time I interned with Anna Fishburn, right away I felt like this is perfect for me,” she says. “I love people. I love television and film. I love actors. I have a knack for remembering people, and that’s really helpful.”
Sutton also credits her abilities to organize and multitask as two critical skills she needs for the job. Her internship quickly turned into a career. And with that transition and evolution, her aptitude and desire to progress in the industry grew. When Lost started production, Sutton was hired to do all the casting for the first season, from 2004 to 2005. “Then I ended up having a baby (daughter Ava Sutton),” she says.
But the film industry wasn’t done with her yet. She made her return to the Lost team—this time as person in charge of casting speaking roles. “I was nervous,” she admits. “I thought, ‘What if I’m bad at it?'”
However, those fears soon dissipated and Sutton went on to cast the last two seasons of the show. But before the end of the series, her dedication to her craft led CBS to her doorstep when it was planning to start filming the pilot episode of Hawaii Five-0. “I was so honored,” she fondly recalls.
She ended up passing on the opportunity, as her work with Lost still was ongoing. “But I said, ‘If you get picked up for a series, give me a call,'” she says. And call they did—in fact, she got confirmation on her birthday in June of 2010. (Between the finale of Lost and her start with Hawaii Five-0, Sutton did casting work for Just Go With It starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston.)
Since her start with Hawaii Five-0, Sutton also has worked with Alexander Paine, who directed The Descendants (2011), as well as Cameron Crowe on Aloha (2015). She has become the go-to person within the industry and looks forward to continuing to do what she loves.
“I equate it to painting a picture,” she explains. “Whether you’re casting extras or actors, you’re taking these words off a page and you’re putting them into real people’s mouths, and you paint this living, breathing landscape that becomes a piece of art.”
Through the years she has found that working with actors is always enjoyable. She sees people from all walks of life come together for the sake of the craft.
For those interested in getting started in the film industry, Sutton says Hawai`i is the perfect place to do so.
“There are so many avenues here,” she says. She credits the island’s many theatre venues that encourage local actors to pursue their passions. “Do it because you love it,” she adds.